Tourism students redefine the future with AI and cutting-edge technology in Dubai

Posted on February 19, 2024

In January 2024, the top honours students in Tourism Management from the University of Pretoria – Justin Wright, Alyssa Janse van Rensburg, Nina Gilau and Katleho Tsotetsi – participated in the second edition of the Middle East and Africa (MEA) Future Leaders Challenge (FLC). The live event finals of the challenge took place from 23 to 26 January 2024 in Dubai, hosted by the Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management (EAHM).
The MEA FLC is an initiative launched in 2023 with a vision to empower, elevate, and educate future leaders within the tourism and hospitality industry. Held in collaboration with the GameChangers Community and Hilton MEA, the event’s goal is to involve students in addressing crucial industry challenges, enhancing talent development, and fostering collaboration among regional industry leaders.
In the few months before the live event challenge, students collaborated in pre-assigned groups to work on an industry challenge as identified by the advisory board. The students then presented their solutions to the board at the live event challenge finals. To equip the students, they engaged in an online educational programme which covers topics such as interpersonal relations, personal and professional development, entrepreneurship, storytelling and presentation skills. The students also received a certificate for completing this course.
The topic of the 2024 challenge was to consider how the integration of AI and cutting-edge technologies within the hospitality and tourism sectors can be used to transform the perception of career opportunities within the industry to make it more appealing and aspiring to management graduates. A total of 88 students from 22 colleges and universities spanning the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, South Africa, Kenya, Rwanda, Mauritius and Seychelles presented their innovative solutions to executives from the advisory board. Although a winning team was selected, the challenge is more focused on ‘community over competition’, a goal that was certainly achieved.
The students also partook in a market fair, where they had a unique opportunity to learn from industry professionals (who were from Hilton, Coca-Cola and Vision Linens) about topics such as how to conduct themselves in interviews, goal-setting and CV development. It was a privilege to witness corporate professionals dedicating their time and personal investment to the students as future leaders.

Colin Robinson (left), Vice President of Customer Development at the Coca-Cola Company, Dubai, UAE, presenting interview tips to students at the market fair

The students were also privileged to partake in some unforgettable experiences. This included a visit to the iconic Burj Al Arab, renowned as the only 7-star hotel in the world. They were treated to an exquisite dinner held on the rooftop of the Radisson Blu Hotel, generously sponsored by Vision Linens. Further adding to their memorable journey was a Walking Talent Dinner, where they visited various luxury hotels along the Dubai Eye, sponsored by Fine Solutions. And, of course, what is a visit to Dubai without partaking in a desert safari!
The Department of Marketing and the Tourism Management Division would like to acknowledge Prof Elizabeth du Preez for her contribution towards the students and involvement with this initiative. Another huge thank you is to Dr Bianca Frost, a lecturer in the Department, who accompanied the students to Dubai as their guiding teacher and represented the University of Pretoria as part of the Directors Alliance to foster further growth and collaborations.

From left: Dr Bianca Frost (lecturer), Justin Wright, Katleho Tsotetsi, Alyssa Janse van Rensburg and Nina Gilau


The students had this to say about their experience:
“My Dubai trip was an incredible experience filled with new encounters and cultural discoveries. Meeting people I've only known online was surreal, and witnessing the stark cultural contrasts between students from various backgrounds and between Dubai and South Africa was eye-opening. The city's perpetual energy, with lights always ablaze, was unlike anything I've experienced before, although the incessant traffic proved daunting. Despite initial stress about presenting, the supportive audience made it a breeze to share our work and ideas. Overall, it was a memorable journey of exploration and connection.” – Alyssa Janse van Rensburg
“Taking part in the Future Leaders Challenge was a pivotal growth experience. Being exposed to the world’s current tourism and hospitality hub was an amazing perspective enhancer. Interacting with different people from different countries elevated the entire experience completely. It was so motivating to be amongst different people of different nationalities who shared the same interests I have in the industry. I learnt to  challenge myself and to not be afraid to form networks with other people in the industry. I also learned much about adopting the spirit of community (networking) over competing. One's success in the industry strongly relies on connecting with other people in the industry.” – Katleho Tsotetsi
“Alongside 88 fellow students, I proudly represented not only my university but also my country. Collaborating and engaging with fellow students from across the Middle East and Africa was an eye-opening experience. Having the opportunity to converse with industry leaders and get a unique insight into the tourism and hospitality industry was such an amazing opportunity. This challenge has not only helped me grow as a person but also opened my eyes to the numerous possibilities that await me. This experience was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that has opened doors and created bridges that would have never existed. A heartfelt thank you to the MEA Future Leaders Challenge led by Hubert Ummels and Marvy Rieder, alongside Pascal Strauss, and César Mulet, and many more for their belief in us and for providing the opportunity to showcase our talents.” – Justin Wright
Sincere thanks are extended to all the members from the MEA Future Leaders Challenge Team, specifically Hubert Ummels (Founder and Chair); Pascal Strauss (Head of Education) and Marvy Rider (Director of the MEA FLC) for facilitating this initiative to empower our future leaders. A heartfelt thank you also to all the sponsors and hosts of the event, as well as the support from the Head of the Department of Marketing Management, Prof Yolanda Jordaan, for making it possible for our students to attend this event. Further information can be found at:
- Author Department of Marketing Management

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